Why are so many people intimidatedby basic yeast-risen doughs? Is it because making them requires time, patience, and special equipment? I think not! The real reason is yeast.
Yeast is a living organism people utilize to lighten flour-based doughs. As the yeast breathes, it releases carbon dioxide in the form of bubbles. These bubbles create pockets in the dough, causing it to rise, giving yeast breads their light, airy texture.
The three most critical things to consider when making yeast doughs are: 1. Chef Bill is always right, 2. Yeast needs to eat, and 3. Salt kills yeast.
Yeast exists in three basic types: fresh, instant, and active dry. Each type does the same thing but they cannot be substituted in a one-to-one ratio. I always stick to recipes that call for active dry yeast. This yeast, available at most grocery stores, gives the dough a pleasing yeasty fragrance as it rises and bakes (much more than instant yeast does).
When using active dry yeast, the first step is to activate it. What we’re truly doing here is resuscitating the yeast. We’re bringing it back from a long sleep. The yeast is actually in suspended animation — how cool is that? Mad science!
To activate, heat a liquid (water or milk) to the life-giving temperature of 90˚F to 100˚F. Be careful here, because yeast dies at 120˚F. Then add sugar by gently dissolving it in the warmed liquid. Finally, stir the measured amount of yeast into the same liquid.
Now the magic begins. The yeast will slowly dissolve; as it does, it will form bubbles. After five to 10 minutes, a raft of bubbles will form on the top of the bowl (if no raft forms, dump the stuff and start again). This raft is an indication that the yeast is now alive and breathing. Once you’ve resurrected the yeast, mix it into your flour.
Always be aware of the 90˚F to 100˚F temperature zone. This is where the yeast will continue to thrive and cause the dough to rise. One last thing to remember: If your dough doesn’t rise, there’s no fixing it. Just suck it up and try again.
Here’s a fairly simple Italian breadstick recipe to try.
CHEF BILL’S Grissini
- 1 cup milk
- 4 tsps. active dry yeast
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 3 cups bread flour
- 3 tbsp. butter, softened
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 4 tbsp. olive oil
- Warm milk to 90˚F. Add the yeast and sugar. Let stand until frothy. In a mixer, add the butter, flour, salt and oil. Mix with a dough hook until a ball forms.
- Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.
- Place in an oiled bowl, cover and proof until doubled, about one hour.
- Turn out on a floured surface, pat down, cut into five equal pieces.
- Roll each piece into a 10-inch square, one-third-inch thick.
- Use a pizza wheel to cut into one-third-inch strips. Place on parchment paper, spray with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and parmesan.
- Bake at 400˚F for about 12 minutes. Turn halfway through.
Until we cook again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Historic Fernandina Beach, with your recipes or questions at [email protected], for inspiration to get you Cheffed Up!